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Pitch Movement and Spin Axis Data Suggest the Twins Should Acquire This Rocky

Let's identify a free agent and potential trade target starting pitcher for the Twins by analyzing Statcast's new spin metrics.
Image courtesy of © Joe Camporeale | 2020 Sep 26
The Minnesota Twins’ offseason is moving at a snail’s pace and it turns out that the snail is in it’s waning years and crippled by various forms of arthritis.

The team’s only significant transaction to date has been the signing of relief pitcher Hansel Robles to a one-year, $2 million deal at the end of December, otherwise the Twins’ transaction page is littered with minor league deals.

Those in and around the team with working knowledge of how the Twins are approaching the offseason firmly believe that they will make at least one move of significance before Spring Training starts in approximately six weeks. Most of the rumors surrounding the Twins have them focused on obtaining a shortstop as well as various relief pitchers. However, one area where the team also figures to be exploring its options is the starting pitching market.

The Twins currently have three rotation spots locked up for the 2021 season in Kenta Maeda, Jose Berrios, and Michael Pineda. Randy Dobnak and Devin Smeltzer will also undoubtedly see their fair share of starts and Jhoan Duran and Jordan Balazovic are on the cusp of making their Major League debuts. But that still leaves plenty of room for the Twins to bring in at least one starting pitcher of consequence.

They have been linked to the likes of Jake Odorizzi — who is reportedly seeking a multiyear deal of at least $10 million per year guaranteed — and the recently signed Corey Kluber. Pitchers that fit this mold would primarily add to the starting rotation’s depth as they would clearly be the third or fourth best starter on the Twins’ roster without impacting its overall ceiling.

However, a fair amount of intriguing names remain on the open market — both via free agency and trades — that could not only make the starting unit deeper, but also more dangerous.

One way to determine which names the Twins may be wise to go after is by looking at the spin and movement of each individual’s pitches. This isn’t a new concept by any means, but for the uninitiated, the thought process goes something like this: more spin on the ball = more movement = more difficult to hit the pitch = more strikeouts = less runs allowed = more wins. That’s an over simplified explanation that doesn’t always convert to real life, but you get the picture.

There are a number of pitchers still available, so going over every single one would go beyond the scope of this article. That said, let’s discuss two names that may be of particular interest.

THE STANDARD

But before we do that and in order to set a comparison for how the pitchers on the market stack up, it would be prudent to take a look at the data of various pitches of the Twins’ best hurler.



(Here’s a key for interpreting the chart:
  • Parameters were set so that each pitch had to be thrown at least 100 times during the 2020 season. This will be true for the two examples below, as well.
  • The deeper the color the further away that value is from average.
  • Positive values are above average, while negative values are below.
  • All data was gathered via Baseball Savant.)
Maeda relied upon his slider and changeup much more during his first season with the Twins compared to his previous seasons while in Dodger blue, consistent with the team’s overall philosophy of leaning on offspeed pitches when the pitcher’s fastball isn’t their most dominant option. This is backed up in the chart above — as well as the more nuanced data found on Baseball Savant — that shows Maeda’s fastball to be pretty average in terms of both speed and overall movement.

However, what may be interesting to note is that Maeda’s slider isn’t all that great either, at least on it’s own. What makes Maeda’s slider useful is the dominance of his changeup.



The chart and graphic above can be a little confusing, so I’ll try to succinctly summarize. Active spin percentage is the amount of the baseball’s spin that goes toward the pitch’s break and/or drop; the higher the percentage, the less wasted spin. The clocks represent the direction in which each pitch moves based on spin at the release of the pitch (left) versus when it reaches home (right).

For Maeda, this means that his slider breaks as expected — which is to say not much in any direction — whereas his changeup drops significantly based on what would be assumed when it leaves his hand. To put it simply: Maeda’s changeup is one of the best in the game due to its movement and spin.

Now that we have developed a baseline, let’s look at two of the Twins’ options on the market.

FREE AGENT OPTION

Jake Arrieta





Much like Maeda, Arrieta boasts a changeup with great movement, but where he differentiates himself from the Twins’ ace is that he has another pitch that moves quite a bit: his sinker.

Arrieta is but a shell of his former Cy Young winning self, but he still may have some gas left in the tank. Part of his struggles over the last few seasons have been due to bad luck, but the main reason is a K% that has precipitously dropped from 27.1% there season he was named the National League’s best pitcher to 16.8% last season.

If there is a pitching coach that could help Arrieta right the ship — at least on a one-year deal — it’s Wes Johnson. Perhaps the key to raising his K% is a change in pitch mix?

TRADE OPTION

German Marquez, Colorado Rockies





At first blush, Marquez’s data doesn’t look all that promising. His movement is below average for all of his pitches and they move in an expected manner. However, the data should be taken with a grain of salt as Marquez spent a good chunk of 2020 — and his career — pitching in the unfriendly confines of Coors Field.

The thin atmosphere in Denver makes playing at Coors the bane of every pitcher’s existence. The ball flies further when hit and moves less when thrown as the ball has less drag to fight. It’s simple physics!

It’s safe to say that Marquez’s stuff has suffered because of the Colorado air and his numbers back this assumption up.



Marquez is a mid- to top-end starter when he isn’t pitching a mile above sea level and rather poor when he is. Pitching a full season in the American Midwest would may result in Marquez fighting for an All-Star spot due in large part to improved stuff. Under the tutelage of Johnson, Marquez would be a contender for making a Maeda-esque jump.

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13 Comments

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specialiststeve
Jan 16 2021 09:25 PM

I'd be fine with Arietta on a one year incentive laden deal. 5 mil + 5 mil in incentives...

 

Marquez would NOT come cheap .... they would want some high end prospects. Gray would likely come a ton cheaper... I would go for Gray for a couple mid tier prospects... Marquez would take a couple high tier ... for 2 years of arbitration eligible paydays. Not sure ... would depend on the prospects wanted...

    • alphanumeric likes this
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Doctor Gast
Jan 17 2021 06:01 AM

Love your article Lucas. I think Marquez is great! But it'll be difficult to pull him away from CO. It'll be expensive w/ prospects & salary. It'll be worth it if you can get the $ to balance the budget. We should give Arrietta a shot. PIT Stranton has one of the highest spin rate in MLB but PIT hasn't been able to untap that talent. What do you think Lucas? is he worth a shot?I believe PIT has an eye for good pitching but have no idea how to develop it. So I'd like to grab anything that comes out of there. Musgrove is under rated & paid, I'd rather FO pursue him. It'd take a lot less prospects & salary costs.

    • alphanumeric and DocBauer like this
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TwinsFan268
Jan 17 2021 07:47 AM

I don't know about everyone else but I think a lot of articles are written about Twins acquiring Rockies, and they never do...

    • mikelink45 likes this

Marquez is one of the top 20 most desired players in all of baseball - prospects and veterans alike - if you trust baseballtradevalues.com's general methodology. It would require both Royce Lewis and Alex Kirilloff just to make a break-even trade from the Rockies POV. And with Marquez having 4 years of team control they might not see a purpose to a break-even trade if they think they can contend again in 2022 - they might think about Lewis, Kirilloff and Arraez, maaaaaybe.

 

Interesting article explaining why Marquez is so coveted by literally 28 other teams besides ours and the one who has him. But IMO it's a non-starter (no pun intended) as a trade idea.

I would consider it, but would want an extension in place.Otherwise two or three top prospects for a 2 year pitcher is a no for me.And top end would probably start with two of the Twins top 5.

I would consider it, but would want an extension in place.Otherwise two or three top prospects for a 2 year pitcher is a no for me. 

I believe Marquez is signed through 2023 with a team option for a fourth season, all at highly reasonable salaries if he performs to expectations raised here.
 

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Hosken Bombo Disco
Jan 17 2021 12:58 PM
This is really well presented on Maeda, and I count at least 17 paragraphs, 4 Tweets, and a table of bullet points, before getting to the lede in the headline—quite a build up :) but the Colorado guy sounds intriguing if he’s available, which I doubt. With Larnach and Rooker in the wings, I might part with Kirilloff. Or one of the others. Who knows.

The Twins really rolled the dice when they traded for Maeda. So, more realistically, I’d like to see the Twins get better at indentifying and developing the quality guys already in the organization, whether that’s Jose Berrios, Nick Anderson, or maybe Sean Poppen (gone) or Cody Stashak (still here).

I like this thought process, so let's roll thru a couple of possible trades"

 

To get only Marquez91.2 trade value:

Larnach 35.9

Duran17.9

Jeffers 23.8

Dobnak 10.0

Smeltzer 4.7

TOTAL92.30

 

Marquez91.2 +Trevor Story33.70=124.9

Arraez 43.4

Larnach 35.9

Sano12.2

Duran 17.9

Dobnak 10.0

Smeltzer 4.7

TOTAL 124.10

 

Neither of these deals make any sense for the Twins unless they sign both Marquez and Story to extensions.Polanco moves to 2B. 

But the starting staff, infield "D" and lineup is improved tremendously.

Maeda, Berrios, Marquez, Pineda, sign Jon Paxton--great starting staff

Still need a BP arm & UT guy.

 

The Reds Luis Castillo and either Castellanos or Moustakas to take on salary and add a little more THUNDER to the lineup.You have to take one of these guys back just to lower the cost for Castillo.

 

Castillo114.8 (yup, that's right, 114.8 !)Castellanos-17.60 Moose-19.6

TOTAL Reds value 96.20

 

Twins get Castillo and either Moose or Castellanos and Lorenzen RP4.7099.90 total.

 

Reds Get:

Polanco 32.8

Larnach 35.9

Garver 18.0

Dobnak10.0

Smeltzer4.7

TOTAL101.4 

 

Castillo, Maeda, Berrios, Pineda and sign Jon Paxton.That's quite a starting staff.

Lorenzen is a solid arm deepening the BP.

 

 

Since TD doesn't recognize punctuation:

 

Castellanos and Moose are NEGATIVE values.Lorenzen is a 4.70 value.

 

Twins give up 101.4 in value

 

Reds give up 99.90

Photo
specialiststeve
Jan 17 2021 08:18 PM

 

Marquez is one of the top 20 most desired players in all of baseball - prospects and veterans alike - if you trust baseballtradevalues.com's general methodology. It would require both Royce Lewis and Alex Kirilloff just to make a break-even trade from the Rockies POV. And with Marquez having 4 years of team control they might not see a purpose to a break-even trade if they think they can contend again in 2022 - they might think about Lewis, Kirilloff and Arraez, maaaaaybe.

 

Interesting article explaining why Marquez is so coveted by literally 28 other teams besides ours and the one who has him. But IMO it's a non-starter (no pun intended) as a trade idea.

 

Marquez will be a FA in 23 so only 2 more years of control.... 

 

There is ZERO shot the Twin's offer Lewis and Kiriloff let alone Arraez.. you would think that Marquez would be the best pitcher in Baseball... He is a good pitcher... But not a superstar.... 

Photo
specialiststeve
Jan 17 2021 08:22 PM

 

I like this thought process, so let's roll thru a couple of possible trades"

 

To get only Marquez91.2 trade value:

Larnach 35.9

Duran17.9

Jeffers 23.8

Dobnak 10.0

Smeltzer 4.7

TOTAL92.30

 

Marquez91.2 +Trevor Story33.70=124.9

Arraez 43.4

Larnach 35.9

Sano12.2

Duran 17.9

Dobnak 10.0

Smeltzer 4.7

TOTAL 124.10

 

Neither of these deals make any sense for the Twins unless they sign both Marquez and Story to extensions.Polanco moves to 2B. 

But the starting staff, infield "D" and lineup is improved tremendously.

Maeda, Berrios, Marquez, Pineda, sign Jon Paxton--great starting staff

Still need a BP arm & UT guy.

 

The Reds Luis Castillo and either Castellanos or Moustakas to take on salary and add a little more THUNDER to the lineup.You have to take one of these guys back just to lower the cost for Castillo.

 

Castillo114.8 (yup, that's right, 114.8 !)Castellanos-17.60 Moose-19.6

TOTAL Reds value 96.20

 

Twins get Castillo and either Moose or Castellanos and Lorenzen RP4.7099.90 total.

 

Reds Get:

Polanco 32.8

Larnach 35.9

Garver 18.0

Dobnak10.0

Smeltzer4.7

TOTAL101.4 

 

Castillo, Maeda, Berrios, Pineda and sign Jon Paxton.That's quite a starting staff.

Lorenzen is a solid arm deepening the BP.

 

Guys you need to get off that trade site it is not in the ballpark with their values.... Polanco and Story pretty much the same value... junk it... 

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tony&rodney
Jan 18 2021 07:43 AM

Proposing trades is always tricky. The question one needs to ask is whether each team would be open to the trade. A Twins fan might not care about the other team.

The trade site is full of holes and everyone is better off going with their own ideas than researching the values contained on the site.

There are Twins Daily writers and commenters who want a shortstop. Javy Baez?

Well the trade site allows us to walk away with Baez for Nick Gordon, Astudillo, and Smeltzer going to the Cubs. We could throw in Lamonte Wade to make the Cubs feel like they swindled the Twins. 

I don't think this will work. Does anyone else?

Many posters have suggested interesting trades and an early one by Nash Walker was an example that might benefit both teams. Others have concocted trade ideas to mull over as well, including people who later brought up the simulator.

So yah, go with the ideas and junk the simulator.

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Hollywood42
Jan 19 2021 07:18 AM

 

Guys you need to get off that trade site it is not in the ballpark with their values.... Polanco and Story pretty much the same value... junk it... 

 

I mean that's pretty reasonable. Story is obviously the better player, but Polanco isn't too bad himself despite the trends of the offseason, and he's on a very team friendly contract for 5 more years whereas Story is a free agent next year. That makes a huge difference

    • ashbury likes this